Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ambitious project to have a SAARC satellite as India's gift to its neighbourhood is likely to miss its December 2016 deadline. It also comes at a time when uncertainty prevails over the SAARC grouping due to rising tensions between India and Pakistan.
India's premiere space agency, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) which is in charge of making and launching the satellite has said that it has its calendar full. India has a vibrant space programme with ISRO having the capability to launch satellites weighing 2.2 tonnes.
"ISRO has been launching at least one satellite every month, so our calendar is perennially packed and at this point of time it looks difficult to launch the South Asian satellite in December. It could get delayed by a month," said senior official to PTI.
The SAARC satellite was PM Modi's brainchild, which was mooted at the 2014 SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, Nepal. Modi had said that satellite would be a "gift" to the neighbours, expanding information sharing, connectivity, telecommunication and tele-medicine.
"We are working on the South Asian satellite project, but no date for launch has been finalised," ISRO chairman and Department of Space Secretary, AS Kirankumar, told PTI.
After Pakistan opted out of the SAARC satellite project, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup had said that it would be called a South Asia satellite rather than SAARC satellite.
The SAARC Summit in Islamabad in November has also been called off after India, followed by Bhutan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan pulled out citing "prevailing circumstances." India was miffed with Pakistan's lack of seriousness with the issue of cross-border terrorist attacks and its growing interference in internal affairs of the member states.
Apart from Pakistan, Afghanistan too has not shown interest in the satellite. Afghanistan had tied up with a European company for all its needs that were associated with space.
Sources told Hindustan Times that even Bangladesh was not too keen as it was gearing up for the launch of its own geostationary communications satellite, Bang Bandhu-1 in December 2017. But Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka were open to a SAARC satellite.